SITREP 18/2013

May 7, 2013

No New Tax: Can your family afford O'Farrell's new fire tax?In this issue:

  • O’Farrell’s new fire tax growing bigger and uglier by the day
  • Workers comp cuts – the gift that keeps on giving for bosses
  • First responder decision – two steps forward, one step back
  • In brief

O’Farrell’s new fire tax growing bigger and uglier by the day

Last Friday’s Sydney Morning Herald front page ran with a scoop on a new Fire and Emergency Services Levy on all residential land of “about $300” for metropolitan properties. The article noted that “owners of the estimated 810,000, or 36 per cent, of NSW properties that do not have home contents insurance would be forced to share the funding load for the first time” before concluding with the Government’s line that “removing the levy on insurers would save the average household with house and contents insurance about $250 a year”.

So it seems we’d all be worse off, the only question being whether it’d be by $50 or $300 each year.

Then yesterday’s Daily Telegraph carried another “exclusive” revealing that the new tax would vary (like council rates) according to property values, with the tax tipped to range from $201 per year to $1,068 or more. Significantly, neither article made any mention of commercial properties or ongoing payments by either state or local governments. It appears the top end of town will pay nothing.

SITREP 38/2012 reported that the Union was campaigning against the new tax for two reasons: firstly, the new tax would shift the cost of funding FRNSW onto working families while letting the biggest beneficiaries, the insurance companies, off the hook; and secondly, the new tax would mean that every time the FBEU argued for budget increases (to either keep stations open, or for firefighter pay rises) we would in effect have to argue for an increase in taxes – pitting us directly against the community.

The Government is leaking these stories through the media to test the waters of public opinion. Happily, feedback to date suggests they’ve got a real battle on their hands. It’s not surprising that faced with charges like this, many householders (who weren’t aware of the existing levy on insurers anyway) are now big supporters of the current funding set up.

There is of course still a long way to go, with Treasurer Mike Baird suggesting that the new tax is still at least 18 months off “because the Government wanted to consult more”. Closer to the truth is that it doesn’t want to roll out an unpopular new tax before the next state election in March 2015. More to follow.

Workers comp cuts – the gift that keeps on giving for bosses

In 2012 the O’Farrell Government argued that cuts to the NSW workers compensation scheme were required to avoid premium hikes and to secure the scheme’s future. It then cried poor, arguing that budget cuts and caps on public sector wages were required to keep the state on the straight and narrow.

Now, without a hint of shame or embarrassment, the same Government is crowing over a 7.5% reduction in workers compensation premiums that have saved 167,000 employers more than $200 million a year.

While Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon observed that O’Farrell’s savage reforms were about “rewarding the business community with lower workers’ compensation premiums with no regard for the impact on tens of thousands of working families”, the NSW Chamber of Commerce could barely contain its excitement. “A great outcome for the NSW business community” it chortled, before greedily threatening that “while the premium reductions and premium changes are both very important and welcome, more work needs to be done to make the system even more competitive with other states and easier to understand and use for both employers and injured workers.” 

Every dollar saved by big business is a dollar out of the pockets of injured workers and their families. As a result of our strike action on 21 June 2012 firefighters dodged this bullet. Lucky for us, but cold comfort for every other worker in NSW.

First Responder decision – two steps forward, one step back

Last Friday, the IRC’s Justice Staff handed down his decision on whether or not the introduction of Community First Responder represented an improvement in the work value and, if so, what should be done about that (Click here to read the full decision). In short, he acknowledged that:

 ‘In light of this evidence, the work of retained firefighters can only be described as “new” when they carry out the specialised CFR function which required a higher level of first aid skills’; and

‘From a work value view point, CFR duties must be recognised as a work value improvement to the existing work of retained firefighters. The next question that arises is whether the new work meets the requirements of the wage fixing principles that there has been a net addition the retained firefighters’ responsibilities when carrying out CFR work. In my view, the answer must be “yes”’

Despite this, the decision did not go on to award an amount that should be paid, but did indicate a preference for increasing the hourly rate as opposed to changing the retainer or introducing a new allowance. Justice Staff has directed the parties to provide additional submissions in regard to the quantum and has set the matter down for further hearing on 7 June.

In other first responder news, there is no doubt the government is paving the way for first responder more broadly following last week’s Sun-Herald which ‘revealed’ a blow out in Ambulance response times, leading to some 50 instances where patients with life threatening injuries waited over an hour. What better way to get the community on board by first generating a self-made crisis through the media and then presenting the solution amidst the hysteria. Instead of addressing the real issue of paramedics waiting with patients in queues for available beds, which of course would require significant investment in hospitals, this government is trying to hoodwink the community into believing firefighters can just fill the gaps. Well we are not buying it. Stop public sector budget cuts, fund our hospitals and let us get on with our job.

In Brief

  • The Union’s application under the GIPA Act (see SITREP 15/2013) has been re-scheduled for hearing on Monday, 3 June.
  • The Union and Department appeared before his Honour Justice Boland today regarding the new Regulations (see SITREP 12/2013). A decision shall be handed down shortly.
  • Thousands of workers gathered on Sunday to celebrate May Day, including a FBEU contingent. Thank you to members and their families for their attendance and ongoing support of the movement.


Jim Casey
State Secretary



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